Mt. Juliet, TN. “We’ve Always Had a Bad Reputation,” Wal-Mart Admits
"There are only two kinds of people," says Linda Elam, Mayor of Mount Juliet, Tennessee. "Those who live in Mt. Juliet and those who want to."
This suburb of Nashville has a population today of roughly 30,000 people. It describes itself as "one of the most unique and charming cities in the South." Mt. Juliet brags of being the "fastest growing city in Middle Tennessee" with a 22% growth rate over the past two years. The city was incorporated only 36 years ago, so its infrastructure is "new, robust and improving daily."
Wal-Mart noticed the growth in Mt. Juliet, and decided to locate a superstore there. The company was no doubt attracted also to the zero property tax rate in Mt.Juliet.
On October 19, 2009, Wal-Mart issued a press release announcing that a new, 176,330 s.f. Wal-Mart would be bringing "350 new jobs, savings for local shoppers and an increase in tax revenue to support the area's economy." The store, which the retailer no longer calls "superstore," nonetheless has a full line of groceries, including a bakery and deli, a lawn and garden center, expanded electronics department, drive-through pharmacy (with two lanes), vision center, digital photo processing center, and leased space for a hair salon, McDonald's, and a branch of the Fort Sill National Bank.
Local residents must have greeted the new superstore with passing interest. That's in part because Mt. Juliet has seen over 350 new businesses come to the city in the past two years, but also because Wal-Mart has absolutely saturated this part of Middle Tenneesee.
The retailer has no less than 15 stores within 20 miles of Mt. Juliet, including 9 other superstores. There is a superstore in Hermitage, Tennessee less than 5 miles from the Mt. Juliet superstore, plus Wal-Mart superstores in Hendersonville and Antioch, Tennessee. So Mt. Juliet, the "city between two lakes," is also the city between two Wal-Marts.
In the past year, a Wal-Mart, a Lowe's, a second Publix, and an Aldi's have all opened up in Mt. Juliet, vying for the dollars of 30,000 people. As Mayor Elam concludes, "Mt. Juliet is absolutely busting!" As the Mayor says of her city: "Bold leadership, with big time results." You don't get much more 'big time' than Wal-Mart.
This week, according to News Channel 5 in Nashville, Wal-Mart is partnering with the city of Mt. Juliet to 'help' small businesses.
City officials are spending $35 million to widen Mt. Juliet road, and many businesses along the road's construction zone are losing customers as the work drags on. As the owner of Nationwide Carpet told Channel 5, "Even people that live around here try to avoid this section of road because of the construction. It's tough for people to even know you are still here or open for business," the owner said.
The three year road project is not even half completed, so area businesses have more suffering to go through. But Channel 5 reports that the city and Wal-Mart are coming to the rescue.
"Mt. Juliet officials have launched a new campaign called 'North Mt. Juliet Road is Open For Business'," the TV station reports. "A company with a reputation for running small businesses out of town is helping -- Wal-Mart."
The new channel interviewed the manager of the Mt. Juliet Wal-Mart, who admits that her company's reputation for cannibalizing small merchants preceeds it. "Yeah, we've always had that bad reputation," the Wal-Mart manager says. "We've seen it where a lot of communities go up against Wal-Mart and that's not what we want. We want to help."
So after displacing millions of dollars in retail sales that used to go to local merchants, Wal-Mart felt it had to give something back. The company decided to pay for two red-and-white oval signs that say N. Mt. Juliet Road OPEN For Business" at either end of the construction zone. "Some of these shops are so unique that we can't afford to lose them ourselves," the Wal-Mart manager said.
The owner of National Carpet was skeptical. "Yeah, with their reputation as being ones that go after the mom and pop, to see them partnering up I guess you'd say to help us out doesn't make a lot of sense," said the small retailer. "But they don't sell flooring, so I'm not too upset about that." He then told Channel 5 that he was not convinced the signage was going to do much good.
What you can do: Wal-Mart's small investment in two wooden signs was worth much more to the giant retailer in free media space and good will than to any other local merchant.
The headline "Wal-Mart Helping Small Businesses" is the exact opposite of what is happening in this small city 17 miles from Nashville.
There are two Publix stores in Mt. Juliet, an Aldi's and a Kroger, plus smaller competitors like Gordon's Good Time Foods, Cedar Creek Market, and Los Amigos Market. All of these smaller businesses have been giving up market share since the Wal-Mart superstore opened in October of 2009.
When Wal-Mart opened its store in Mt. Juliet, it handed out a series of $2,500 checks to local non-profits, and then proceeded to pump millions in sales monthly -- mostly coming from other merchants in the city.
North Mt. Juliet street may be open for business, but Wal-Mart competitors in this city are an endangered species. The loss of these local merchants is the real sign of the times in Mt. Juliet.
Readers are urged to email Mt. Juliet Mayor Linda Elam at firstname.lastname@example.org with the following message: "Dear Mayor Elam, I hope you will go back to the superstore manager of the Wal-Mart in your small city, and ask them to put up a sign on North Mt. Juliet street which says, 'The Mayor encourages you to recycle your dollars by shopping at local merchants.' This, in fact, would be a better sign than the one you had Wal-Mart pay for.
t seems that your city is measuring its worth by how many national chain logos it can attract. But underlying that activity is the loss of jobs and revenue that these chain stores bring, plus the added cost of police and public safety costs these giant retailers cause.
There are only two kinds of people: those who adore sprawl, and those who abhor it. Your charming little community is flirting with suburban sprawl, and if you let these big chain stores flood your area (15 Wal-Marts within 20 miles) you are going to lose that small town feeling that is so important to the future economics of your city.
Your Wal-Mart manager is right: Wal-Mart does have a bad reputation. They earned it in small cities like Mt. Juliet."